Hydroponics is a system of growing vegetables without soil. Using this system, the plant receives nutrients through the roots, but they are not in soil. Hydroponic plants can be grown in water, gravel, sand or simply in the air with an occasional nutrient bath. This is an efficient system and the plants benefit through greater efficiency than soil-based planting. Hydroponic plants can grow through faster and bigger than those grown in soil due to this efficiency and there are many other benefits as well. Hydroponic vegetable gardens are something that deserves a serious look for those who want to develop an efficient plant production system to feed a growing world.
Why Do Hydroponic Plants Grow Better?
We are taught in elementary school that in order to grow plants need water, sunshine, and soil. This is a mantra that any fourth grader knows by heart, but it is only partially correct. Plants need water, sunshine, and nutrients. They do not have to get their nutrients from the soil. In soil, the nutrients are dilute and the plant has to spend considerable time and energy spreading its roots to find the nutrients that it needs.
In a hydroponic system, the plant does not have to spend this energy seeking nutrients, which means that they do not need such an extensive root system. Hydroponic plants can grow as much as two times as fast as their soil-grown counterparts can because they do not have to expend the energy to develop an extensive root system. The nutrients are applied directly to the roots, allowing the plant to be grown in a smaller space. Hydroponics allows the plant density to be quadrupled, which means four times more production for the space.
The Efficiency of a Hydroponic System
Many other reasons make a hydroponic system more efficient aside from space. Plants in the soil are at the mercy of Mother Nature. They are exposed to pests, airborne diseases, flood, drought and storm damage. Many diseases come directly from the soil. Hydroponic gardening eliminates the potential for diseases in the soil. It also allows the grower to control precisely the environment so that it gets exactly what it needs. Hydroponic plants can be grown easily without the use of herbicides or pesticides, which is always an advantage.
Isn’t Hydroponic Gardening More Resource Intensive?
Many people think that hydroponic vegetable gardens is more resource intensive than traditional farming. However, the answer to this question relies on the system that is used. In traditional soil-based farming, water must be applied on a regular basis. Unless, one is lucky enough to live in an area that receives the exact amount of rainfall needed, the water must be drawn from the local water table. This places a strain on the water table and this water cannot be recycled. With a hydroponic system, the water used is recycled repeatedly with little loss. Hydroponic farmers claim that they use 90% less water than if the plants were grown using a traditional soil system. Natural lighting can be used to reduce further the footprint on the environment.
Several types of hydroponic systems exist. Some require moving parts, which of course expends electricity and resources, but there are some hydroponic systems that do not require moving parts. These require less energy than soil based systems because they do not require gasoline engines to work the soil. The wick system is one example of a hydroponic system that does not require pumps. This system supplies nutrients to the soil through a capillary system that uses a candlewick to deliver the nutrients to the roots.
What About the Nutrition Value of the Produce?
Many people say that hydroponic plants do not taste the same as those grown in the soil. Taste is a complicated subject. It is determined by genetic, the cultivar grown and growing conditions. Too much rain or a lack of sun can significantly affect the taste of the produce. Many factors that affect taste can be precisely controlled using he hydroponic system. In the beginning of hydroponic gardening, only a few cultivars had been developed, which accounts for their reputation as being tasteless. Now, many cultivars exist that are almost identical in taste to their soil-grown cousins. With improvements in growing systems and better cultivar development, many people cannot tell the taste of hydroponically grown vegetables from soil-grown ones.
In terms of nutritional value, there is no conclusive evidence either way, that hydroponically grown vegetables are more or less nutritious than soil-grown vegetables. In some cases, there may be more nutrients in hydroponic varieties because the nutrient levels can be precisely controlled and adjusted. This is not possible with crops grown in soil. However, at this time, there is no evidence either way that one is better than the other as far as nutrition is concerned.
It is possible to utilize organic growing methods in a hydroponic system. Some organic growers use compost or manure tea as their plant nutrient, just as with soil-based systems. The only difference is that the tea is added directly to the water, not the soil. Nutrient sources also include seaweed and fish emulsion. The nutrient mixture is recirculated and refreshed, so there is little loss.
Hydroponic vegetable gardens are one solution to places where the soil has been over-farmed, or where it is not suitable for traditional farming. Hydroponic farming does not deplete the soil. It is an efficient system that fits anywhere. Hydroponics allows wasted roof space to be turned into a source of food production. There is no need to plan for crop rotation or pest control. Many crops can be grown year round using hydroponic systems. Many top chefs tout the flavour and advantages of hydroponically grown vegetables. Maybe this is something that you should consider if you think that you do not have enough space for traditional soil-based gardening.
What do you think? Is Hydroponics a viable solution for feeding a growing global population?